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Comment: Psychiatric housing needs to be provided for homeless people who are mentally ill

A commentary by a retired registered nurse and registered practical nurse who is a long-time resident of Victoria.
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Tents at Beacon Hill Park in December 2020. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Victoria- and Canada-wide problem of street people sleeping in our parks and on the pavements will not go away with the government tinkering around the edges. Buying motels and offering “wrap around services” will not help those with much greater needs.

The issue of street people can be broken down into thirds.

The first group are the mentally ill and they should not be on the street at all. The movement by the government in the 1980s to empty out the psychiatric hospitals and put the inhabitants into the communities was not a well-thought action.

It had a nice ring to it for the government at the time with the patients being housed in “group homes” and being able to be nearer to their families. The government probably also felt that they would save a lot of money by closing these facilities, which were known to have a reputation akin to prisons.

There was also a belief that people needed their freedom and who are we to dictate to them? It was much easier to put these people into the community and offer services.

These services never happened except in a small and mostly ineffectual way. The ones that were offered often were staffed by people not trained in dealing with psychiatric illness and medications needed for the inhabitants; and consequently a person in distress would not get the attention needed to avoid a worse scenario.

Before this time, few schizophrenics would be seen to be drug addicts, as they frequently are now.

I feel that the government probably saw their action as a win-win situation; saving money, and maybe balancing a budget, always an important aspect for a government.

This is a fallacy with the money now being thrown at an assortment of agencies, ad infinitum.

It is to their detriment that homeless people are now targets for drug pushers who see an eager client who just want to feel better. Who can blame them?

They suffer awful mental torment and their thinking is often addled and confused. Because of their illness, they also suffer from poor judgment, ergo an easy mark for people who have no moral integrity and who may themselves be handicapped. Some of the mentally ill should never be in the community due to being a danger to themselves and others.

It can be argued that the large institutions housed these people and nothing more. However, this too is a fallacy.

Many of the institutions had occupational therapy, outings, dances and other activities to help people remain on a level of functioning that is currently not seen today and how can it be when people are left to their own devices with little comprehension of where they fit into society?

This is not to advocate a return to the institutions of the past. But I feel that there is a necessity for psychiatric housing complete with trained staff who have an understanding of mental illness.

This could be at Riverview, broken down into small houses where 20 or 30 people could be given a chance to live as normally as their respective illnesses would allow.

What we are doing now is cruel and only feeding the coffers of drug dealers who are making money off the backs people who are suffering unbearable lives with the government “assisting” with the mistaken belief that they are helping. The government aid is unsustainable and delusional. This is not cost effective when all the agencies involved, i.e the police (who are not trained to deal with the mentally ill), ER departments, et al.

There can be no positive result when people are discharged to the streets because there is no place for them to go.

The second group who are on the streets, due to their life’s experiences, make questionable decisions as to their future. Moving to a city with no money, no job and no place to live does not make for a positive outcome. They would benefit from the agencies that are available for the mentally ill, though often the two categories cross each other.

The last third concerns people who inhabit every society level in every country. They blame the world and respective society for their ills, like a poor workman blames his/her tools.

The mentally ill should be housed in appropriate settings. If and when when this is done, I feel our homeless problem would dramatically decrease.

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